Hemlock Pop & Brian Kerrigan – “Destroyer” was last modified: December 4th, 2017 by Hemlock Pop
I never used to be comfortable with calling myself an artist. At least…not until it occurred to me that I am indeed compelled to make works, and always have been. That seems like a fine enough definition. Forget any judgment of whether or not said works are worthy to be dubbed “art”…it’s just something I cannot not do and feel “normal”. Granted, “artist” is a label (as is “normal”), and in general, labels generally just create limitations. But, for the scope of this writing…sure. What the hell. Call me
There’s this really frenetic energy that permeates when you do something creative and gear up to show the world. As an Ishmael preparing to release an album while simultaneously having a “normal” (there’s that word again) life, the last two months or so consisted of: keeping up at my day job, finding musicians for the release show, writing charts and coordinating as well as participating in rehearsals with very busy people — for my own set and for Ken Stringfellow‘s set, finishing CD art and duplicating discs and download cards, editing and releasing a video, making sure the album was available digitally in all the usual places and from my own label (as well as finishing and launching the actual label website), launching this very Hemlock Pop website and unwittingly starting a blog, and somehow in the stink-eye of the hurricane, I managed to head into the studio and record a debut “single” with my other heavy rock band, Crashdown Butterfly (which we’ll be releasing before our 8/26 debut show).
…And so, just over a week ago, myself, and my gracious friends/impromptu band played the Hemlock Pop album release show and I have to say it was a fantastic experience. But, I was a little emotionally absent and self-deprecating the night of the show. My voice was a bit scratchy, and I was still getting over the tail end of a virus. Perhaps I built it all up a little too much, as this week following the show I’ve felt surreptitiously squashed and exhausted and it all seems sort of surreal. It has also been far too easy to roll over and over all the things I didn’t do that perhaps I should have done to release an album properly. For instance, while I did take care to do all the publishing/distribution, I didn’t plan for and hire a PR firm or anything (note to self: do that next time). When I listen back to the tracks recorded from the soundboard, the energy is there, the band sounds great, but its pretty obvious I was a little sick and missed some notes (the board don’t lie). Still, I did just complete a mix of one of the songs to pair up with some video from the show, which should see the light of day at some point here — sour notes and all (or perhaps…Bent Fender and Everything).
One useful thing I did take note of at the show, however, is that my CDs didn’t exactly fly off the merch table…and I’m pretty sure it had more to do with the medium itself than the contents thereof. I made CDs partially out of habit and/or familiarity with the process of doing so…but also because I couldn’t afford vinyl. I felt like I needed a tangible music delivery medium for the album release show — and the CDs do look and sound great. BUT, I also understand the general lack of interest; hell, several people I gave the disc to for free said they didn’t even own a CD player anymore (I included download cards for that very possibility). While I’m completely aware that artists are releasing vinyl records left and right, there is one revelation I apparently missed the boat on when it set sail: modern cassette releases.
I’ve always loved cassettes…I just cheated on them for a while. — Me
My friend, Chad, recently loaned me a Harman/Kardon HK 705 UltraWideBand Metal Cassette Deck from the early 1980s (note the picture I took at the top of the article), which just happened to have one cassette accidentally left in it: Kick by INXS. I listened to that tape today multiple times and got this incredible surge of enthusiasm just from the visceral feeling of handling a cassette again, and the slightly hissy analog sound. [Sidenote: I’ve always found it intriguing how in the song New Sensation, Michael Hutchence yells “trumpet!”…right before what is most definitely a saxophone solo. But, I digress…] I was also reminded of the countless boxes and bags (yes, bags) of cassettes I have in storage, as well as the local-band-sticker-laden boombox I stole from Chris Lockwood back when I played lead guitar/sang harmonies for Super Deluxe (sorry Chris, it was an accident). Who knows what treasures may lie therein. Time to go spelunking.
I’d most certainly consider doing a cassette album release again at some point (it’s been many years)…in fact, I’d love to. Perhaps I could even record to tape, if it is a more sparse album. But, is it practical to release on cassette? Does your average person have a cassette player lying around anymore? I’d be back to the same CD player issue I kept hearing about. The semi-comforting thing is: it isn’t very practical and is indeed rather ridiculous to record and release albums at all, so… Whether or not it is a “smart” thing to release an album via cassette, it is far more affordable than pressing vinyl and would still give people that tangible feeling you can’t get from digital files (but, yeah, I’d include a download card). I don’t know for sure, but I’d guess the wait time to turn a cassette release isn’t six or eight months either, like it can be for vinyl since the resurgence.
I’m not sure what ever happened to Seattle’s good ol’ Pro Tape Northwest, but I did find some resources and editorials and other cool stuff related to this subject which I’ll list below, in part for my own future reference:
- Cassette tapes are making a comeback (KING 5 editorial)
- Cryptic Carousel Cassette Duplication and Manufacturing (a US-based company specializing in the design, production, manufacturing, and distribution of esoteric visual and audio related materials)
- Duplication.ca (Audio cassette manufacturing in Montreal/Toronto – free shipping in N. America)
- Rainbo Records in-house cassette duplication (since 1939, wow, although I doubt they started with cassettes…)
- Cassette Works (out in Pasadena, CA)
- Blank cassette tapes (available for purchase via Amazon)
- High Bias!!! A Cassette-Based Operation (John Davis of Superdrag and The Lees of Memory‘s completely 4-track cassette productions. It appears that he only offers the music digitally, it’s still really damned cool the albums were all recorded via 4-track cassette!)
- I couldn’t find any Seattle-area-based businesses that manufacture cassettes these days even after multiple Google searches, but if anyone knows of one, please let me know!
Perhaps this is all just waxing nostalgic, but I don’t think it’s exclusively that. I’ve always loved cassettes…I just cheated on them for a while. Like many people who spent a lot of formative years when cassettes reigned as king, I’m sure past associations and warm fuzzy feelings also come into play. And dig this — about twelve years ago I was robbed of just about everything I owned…but for some reason, the only things those assholes left were the cassette tapes! So, let’s call that serendipity, and I’ll have to do a follow-up article when I re-discover what I have in storage. I’m guessing I’ll find a lot of official cassette releases from years past, tapes friends made me back in high school, and probably that illusory tape containing the one song idea I had that coulda/woulda/shoulda been a “hit”…but I was too busy listening to shitty MP3s to dig it up and change the world. 😉 Perhaps there is still time.
Well, thanks for stopping by. Now, I’m off to find the 186 gigs of variable bitrate RealAudio files I’ve been just jonesing to listen to…
The Hemlock Pop “Crushing On What Might Be” album release show was a success! Quite a turnout, especially considering all the other tantalizing forms of entertainment afoot in Seattle that night — Capitol Hill Block Party, Bite of Seattle, Code Bros Battle to the Death, etc. (just kidding about that last one, but if that was on Netflix, I’d get a bucket of bloody popcorn, stat).
Also in the news…”Crushing On What Might Be” is now available on Spotify, iTunes, Google Play, Amazon MP3, Pandora, Rhapsody, Slacker Radio, YouTube Music and more, as well as directly from my label, OrangePants Records. Some video footage of the show is coming soon. Thanks to Don Farwell, Terry Mattson, and Levi Seitz for their assistance in making the album, Mike Lucero for setting up the show and playing keys, Brinn Cody O’Dwyer, Chad Hanson, and Wren Hanson for helping me make my video for “Something About Ruby”, Steve Gale for drumming, Chad Hanson for harmonizing, Patrick Porter for bassing and harmonizing, Ken Stringfellow with whom it was an honor to rock, The Breaking for masterfully opening the show, Steve Rydgren for filming, Emily Diehl for running my merch table, the High Dive for hosting us, David Miller for insisting on loaning me his Dr. Z amp and many analog stomp box pedals, and myself for crafting such a spectacular run-on sentence! The aforementioned gear loan was even more serendipitous, considering I was then able to loan Ken Stringfellow my Blackstar HT-60 combo amp, and my Gibson SG for the night, since I had other gear to use. Also of note (and really cool) is I’ve known Chad and Patrick since we were basically kids. In fact, Patrick taught me how to play octaves on an electric guitar when I was a 13 year old punk who put fingerprints on everything in the music store where he worked. I used that octaves technique Friday at the show! It’s all come full circle, haha! I’ve played shows with Chad, I’ve played shows with Patrick, they’ve played shows with each other, but this is the first time all three of us worked together on a musical project. Why it took twenty years, I don’t know. But, was a great experience and I’m stoked that went down and they were willing to rock with me. Thanks, dudes.
I don’t get out and do these sorts of things very often anymore, but I’m trying to change that. When I was a bit younger, it was all about the shows, and performing live was this sustaining force akin to a compulsion. Not sure what changed in the illusory passage of “time”. Maybe too many other interests crept in, or everything started to feel too heavy, or perhaps I became more balanced? (oh, and did I mention where monkeys may fly out of?). There’s a line in the movie, The Breakfast Club, where Ally Sheedy’s character, Allison Reynolds (the outcast batcaver/goth girl), says “When you grow up…your heart dies.” For a long time that haunted me and seemed to explain it all in a nice, neat, romantic sentence. Poetic, but, it’s bullshit (I still like the movie, though!). I can’t speak for everyone, but to get off my ass here’s what it came down to: I had to stop having reasons. As silly as it may sound, I had to stop even knowing what a reason was. For every reason, and everything I felt like I had to prove — all I could think of was all the reasons not to, and all the ways I could fail…and for a very long time I was just catatonic. Upon losing the reasons, and losing the proving…the weight lifted, and I finally put out this album and a momentum still sort of carries me. A very wise fellow once asked me to not only walk a line, but prove I was walking a line. It made sense immediately. When you look back with every step you take — to prove you are taking a step — how far do you get, and how clumsy is your walk? And with that, all I’m trying to say is…Imma play more shows and put out more music, haha </ExistentialistBlathering>. And all I’ve had is coffee today. Good thing it wasn’t Irish!
Next up, I plan to continue doing whatever promotion I can with this Hemlock Pop album (social media, radio, licensing, etc.), release a couple of album outtakes, book a few more Hemlock Pop shows. As well, working on getting my other heavy rock band, Crashdown Butterfly, actually, like…heavy rocking. Crashdown Butterfly is Steve Gale (drums), Bob Lyman (bass), David Miller (lead guitar/backup vocals) and myself (lead vocals/guitar) and we play our debut show (also coincidentally at the High Dive) on August 26th with Blue Helix and The Adarna. Our first “single” (and hopefully video) will also be released next month! I’m also talking with Braden Blake (of Super Deluxe) about supporting him on some of his harmony-laden endeavors, but that is TBD.
Thanks again to all who were part of Friday’s show. It’s kind of a blur, but in that warm-n-fuzzy, vasoline lens kind of way. And now, I have to go listen to that Stone Temple Pilots song and do the dishes that piled up while I focused only on this show for the last two weeks. METAL! 👿
Top featured image by Ted Porter
Sometime round about four years ago I went down to the Crocodile Cafe in Seattle to see my friend Anthony Disparte open up a show for the fantastic Kye Alfred Hillig. I picked up Anthony’s album, The Best Looking Horse in the Glue Factory and was really struck by how it sounded and how the songs felt. The production was clean, atmospheric, and the harmonies and vocals seemed to illustrate what I guess is called “indie pop” to a T (I’m actually re-visiting the album as I type). It was my soundtrack for weeks, and in the depths of my black heart some inspiration I hadn’t had in years began to awaken.
There was one particular song on his album I couldn’t stop listening to and it still kills me to this day – ridiculously catchy and heartfelt. It was that track in particular that kicked my ass and I thought, “If Anthony can do this, I can too. Imma make a pop album, dammit…and the best one I can possibly make!” (OK, I probably didn’t think in exactly in that vernacular, but it illustrates the feeling).
I had purchased a used Macbook Pro when I thought I was going to learn iOS development (wups, didn’t do that), and Logic Pro 9 was cheap. I got a MIDI controller, some borrowed preamps, microphones and a Strat. Between 2013 and 2015 I hit a few bumps and worked them into some partly-fact-partly-fiction pop songs which I began programming and recording on my own, with a bit of help from Terry Mattson. I was inspired to do a cover of my favorite Cure song, Charlotte Sometimes, and my friend Hope Simpson of destined-to-be-huge Ever So Android sang ridiculously beautiful backup vocals for me. As I finished the songs, I asked the talented Don Farwell to mix and co-produced them for me, which we did at a rate of about one every couple months over the course of a year and a half (give or take). Then Levi Seitz mastered the album for me. And then…
TOTAL VICTORY AND REJOICING ENSUED I DID NOTHING WITH IT. It sat on a hard drive collecting dust (do hard drives collect dust?) for an entire year.
See, here’s the thing. As an indie artist with a career-type day job (which pretty much describes me and many musicians I guess), it is ridiculously easy to fall into this context of apathy. No one will care. Art is stupid. What’s the point? Hell, how can you even call yourself an artist? WTF is lutefisk? And then it occurred to me: if I created this mental tape loop and it isn’t real, then I can un-create it. Nuke it. Forget the words to that song, so to speak. And what is the point, indeed? Perhaps “the point” is made up too, and it doesn’t deserve an answer. Whether that makes any sense or not, getting ignorant and deciding to stop listening to the voices snapped me out of the haze and one day I simply got off the proverbial couch.
So hmm…what do you do with an album? I thought, “I guess I need some photos.” So I called my friend Steve Rydgren and asked him to help me out with that. Then I called my friend Brinn Cody O’Dwyer and asked if he would film some video footage for me along with Chad Hanson, and Pete Reichert was kind enough to lend me his company‘s office building for a few days before they moved in – and I had a location for the photo shoot and the video shoot.
Last month my buddy Mike Lucero called me and said he was setting up a show with Ken Stringfellow (REM, Posies, Big Star) and would I like to be involved.
Well, let me think about that… YES. With the fuse lit, and a goal date for a release, I finished the artwork, and ordered some CDs with download cards. Brinn gave me a few Final Cut Pro lessons, and I finished editing the video up at the top of this post.
As any indie musician will tell you, it’s quite a ride seriously pursuing music while also having a “regular life”, but it’s so worth doing. And hey, Anthony – thanks, man. I’m sure you had no idea.
I hope you enjoy my debut offering, and I’ll see you at the show next week!
PS: In addition to my Hemlock Pop set, I’ll also be playing guitar and singing backups for Ken Stringfellow, which I’m beyond excited about.
- You can purchase “Crushing On What Might Be” from OrangePants Records now!
- The album release show is Friday, July 21st at The High Dive in Seattle with Ken Stringfellow and The Breaking. Physical CDs including download cards will be available at the show.
- You can preview the album on the Music page, yes, on this very site.
- It will be soon be available from all the usual places (iTunes, Amazon MP3, Google Play, Spotify, etc). I’ll announce when the album hits the digital stores.
- CDs will also be available via CD Baby soon here…